We have followed the problems at Oberlin College for years. Rather than revisiting everything, please scroll through our Oberlin Tag.

The most recent incident involved Professor Joy Karega, who posted blatantly anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook, including linking the Rothschild family to a global conspiracy.

Karega Rotshchild Image

Karega also accused Israel of attacking Charlie Hebdo as part of a false flag operation and being the equivalent of ISIS.

[Facebook posting by Oberlin Colllege professor Joy Karega]

[Facebook posting by Oberlin Colllege professor Joy Karega]

The uproar led to a letter signed by a majority of faculty members and the Board of Trustees condemning such anti-Semitism, and the college placing Karega on paid leave pending possible employment action.

The Karega incident took place amidst increased scrutiny of campus by a group of alumni, Oberlin College Alums: Anti-Israel fanaticism creating hostile environment for Jews. An open letter to the Oberlin President read, in part:

Open Letter to College President Krislov, the Trustees, Faculty, Staff, and Students of Oberlin College:

January 3, 2016

Throughout the past few years, the movement to Boycott, Divest from, and Sanction Israel (BDS) has become increasingly active on American college campuses, and Oberlin has become the site of highly visible BDS activism. Several student organizations at Oberlin have assumed the role as the mouthpiece of the BDS movement, which claims to be a defender of Palestinian rights, but whose inflammatory language falsely portraying Israel as an illegitimate, colonialist and murderous regime demonstrates that its primary goal is to demonize the Jewish state. Because participation in these groups requires denouncing Israel, the message to Jewish students can be summed up as follows: Either forfeit your allegiance to Israel and join us, or we will brand you as an enemy of justice and complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people.

As Oberlin students and alumni representing a diversity of views on Israel, we accept criticism of its leadership and policies. However, we do not believe Israel should be singled out for condemnation and we object to questioning its right to exist. We also abhor the tactics of Oberlin’s pro-BDS student organizations that intimidate, threaten, and coerce Jewish students, which we have seen and heard in numerous written and spoken reports.

According to The Jewish Exponent, an award-winning newspaper that serves the Jewish community of Philadelphia, one Oberlin student reported, “My fellow Obies and I were expected by our peers to join them in denouncing a plethora of social evils including…Israel.” That same student described an incident on campus when, “One speaker drew laughs when she said that Zionists should be burned at the stake.” In addition, the AMCHA campus monitor, which is published by a non profit organization that addresses anti-Semitism on college campuses, has documented numerous messages posted on line by the student group, Students for a Free Palestine, including, “Ohio is infested with Zionism,” and describing Israel as a “white supremacist,” “violent apartheid state.” As reported to The Oberlin Review, other incidents include the expulsion of the Kosher Halal co-op from the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA) and an exhibition of black flags symbolizing the Palestinians killed in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge displayed on Rosh Hashanah, one of Judaism’s holiest days.

Jewish students have articulated the impact of these incidents on their lives. The Oberlin Review quoted one student who said, “I quickly learned that at Oberlin, love for my own nation (Israel) was not something I could freely express.” The student who was quoted in The Jewish Exponent, also explained that she transferred out of Oberlin due to its “toxic climate…around Israel.”

The alumni group has organized an event on campus for September 22 in part to address these issues, “Building a Hate-Free Campus Through Civil Discourse“:

Oberlin Building a Hate-Free Campus Through Civil Discourse

The holding of such an event on campus with well-known pro-Israel speakers apparently was too much.

The Oberlin Review just posted a letter from the Student Senate calling the attacks on Karega part of a witch hunt, and condemning the alumni group.  Here is the letter, in full (emphasis added):

In consultation with current and former members of ABUSUA, Oberlin J Street U and Students for a Free Palestine, Student Senate drafted a letter condemning the actions of certain alumni over the last year; including the surveillance, intimidation, marginalization and harassment of students. The text of the letter is below.

Oberlin students,

Since late 2015, a group of Oberlin alumni have driven a narrative of rampant anti-semitism at Oberlin. They created and moderated the secret Facebook page “Obies against BDS,” and organized an Oberlin Chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF). ACF describes itself as a national network that “organizes alumni to fight the anti-Semitism that is infecting university and college campuses in the guise of anti-Israel activism,” pressuring institutions to provide “comprehensive education, rather than activist propaganda” about Israel and the Middle East, while also seeking to provide “a safe and welcoming environment for students and faculty” with a connection to Israel. However, over the last 10 months, the alums in the Oberlin Chapter of ACF (OCACF) have blatantly disregarded students’ well-being and perspectives in order to push their chosen narrative.

In December 2015, the discussion on Obies against BDS centered on writing a letter to the Oberlin administration articulating concerns over BDS and anti-semitism on campus. When elected student leaders from campus Jewish and pro-Israeli organizations disagreed with and spoke out against the external perception of campus, voicing political disagreement, they were censored and removed from the Facebook group. Some students were even harassed online by alumni moderating the group. Obies against BDS sent their letter to the Oberlin administration in early January, simultaneously publishing it online. Student leaders from Oberlin Zionists, J Street U, and Hillel wrote an op-ed in response, published in February in Cleveland Jewish News, stating that the alumni organizing the letter had little interest in student perspective.

Two days after the op-ed appeared in Cleveland Jewish News, The Tower published its first article on Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Joy Karega’s Facebook posts. OCACF currently takes credit for uncovering these Facebook posts, which notably came soon after the announcement of BDS-advocate and well-respected University of California, Los Angeles Professor Robin Kelley’s impending visit to Oberlin. The Obies against BDS letter contained no concerns about anti-semitic views being expressed by Oberlin faculty, but Professor Karega’s posts were immediately included in OCACF’s narrative of rampant anti-semitism. What followed can most accurately be described as a witch-hunt, orchestrated by organizations outside of Oberlin’s campus, that discarded previous concerns about anti-semitism within the student body for a more readily identifiable target – Professor Karega.

Since February, concern for students has been appropriated into OCACF’s narrative. In April, OCACF President Melissa Landa (OC ’86) stated that Professor Karega’s views were publicly shared for months and years, part of a hostile environment that Jewish students face at Oberlin. By July OCACF, dissatisfied with the slow-paced enquiry into Professor Karega’s postings, sent a letter to Oberlin’s Board of Trustees expressing their concern that Professor Karega’s anti-semitic views were shared with students on Facebook and during her class sessions.

The effects of this changing narrative can be seen in the response to Professor Karega being placed on paid leave. In a joint statement, The Jewish Federation of Cleveland, the Cleveland Hillel Foundation, AJC Cleveland, and the Anti-Defamation League Cleveland said the paid leave decision “sends an important message about the college’s commitment to seeing that academic freedom is not abused to the detriment of the students.” These organizations also expressed that they “look forward to working with the college in the coming semester to foster a campus climate of openness, acceptance, tolerance and mutual respect where students can learn and thrive.”

OCACF fails to demonstrate any concern for students beyond what is politically valuable for them to articulate. These alumni have tirelessly campaigned to create a false image of Oberlin, damage the value of an Oberlin education, and then assert that the only appropriate response is that which they have already proposed: working groups dominated by those who agree with them and severe punishment for Professor Karega. OCACF’s approach has only served to hurt students who are going to classes, studying, engaging in difficult political discussions, and organizing in activist groups.

The upcoming symposium sponsored by OCACF titled “Building A Hate-Free Campus Through Civil Discourse” on September 22nd is a clear representation of their flagrant disregard for students’ interests. This is demonstrated by the fact that student organizations were not involved in the planning or promotion of this symposium, which will be hosted off campus at the The Local. Student Senate does not support the content or approach to this conversation and demands that the response of Oberlin and the community at the very least involve student initiative.

The members of OCACF have perfectly exhibited the types of actions that are detrimental to student led, focused, and oriented initiatives, and student life on campus generally. As students, we are the largest and most present stakeholder in the construction of campus climate. In so being, we repudiate the attempt from OCACF to create a fabricated and falsely adversarial campus environment. Oberlin Student Senate condemns OCACF’s surveillance, intimidation, marginalization, and harassment of Oberlin students, which we believe has impaired the discourse around anti-semitism on campus.

On behalf of Student Senate,
Jeremy Poe, Student Senate Liaison
5/19/16

In consultation with current and former student members from
Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine
ABUSUA
J Street U

[Note: I wonder if the 5/19/2016 date is accurate, since it was published today. Perhaps it was a typo and should have been 9/19/2016]

UPDATE:

Melissa Landa of Alumni for Campus Fairness, the individual and group singled out in the Student Senate letter, provided this statement in response:

The purpose of ACF is to respond to students who have reported disturbing incidents and incitement on campus. We make no apologies for sharing the incendiary Facebook posts of Professor Karega with the Oberlin administration, and are at a loss as to why anyone of good will would feel such communication is unwarranted or illegitimate. We all have a responsibility to condemn racism wherever it appears.

We are engaging a real problem on campus with an approach that is consistent with Oberlin’s values as an academic institution: open discussion, civility and mutual respect. Students, faculty, and administrators who want to make a positive impact on the controversies at Oberlin — whether or not they believe the accusations of anti-Semitism at Oberlin– are welcome to join us by participating in thoughtful dialogue in our upcoming symposium. We firmly believe that open dialogue and discussion are the best remedy to misunderstanding and prejudice. We know that the Oberlin community is up to the task.

The symposium is being held this Thursday at The Hotel at Oberlin (not at The Local) and we look forward to welcoming all who choose to attend. The event runs from 6:30 pm -9:00 pm and we are requesting an RSVP: Obiesymposium@gmail.com

[Note: The title and subtitle of this post were changed after publication]